Can Car Technology Lead to More Distracted Driving?

Since their inception over 120 years ago, automobiles have undeniably come a long way. Innovation and technology have rapidly changed the interior landscape in cars as well as the driver experience. Today drivers can stream music, easily navigate their paths, or call their spouses with a touch of the button or a simple verbal command. Certain technologies can even increase safety, such as pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning (LDW), and blind-spot monitoring. All of this has made driving easier and safer – or has it?

While all of these bells and whistles are great, having too many of them in your car can be hazardous to you and others on the road. The statistics are staggering. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that just taking your eyes off the road for two seconds can more than double your risk for a car accident. Should these modern technologies and conveniences be scaled back to minimize distracted driving, or is there a balance to be struck?

The Integration of the Smartphone

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to distracted driving is the cell phone. Whether it’s sending that quick text, reading the latest tweet, or finding the phone number to your realtor, the temptation is always there, and it is a big one at that. To help cut down on some of the distractions posed by smartphones, car manufacturers have integrated smartphone functionality into vehicles themselves. New cars are more frequently coming with voice-activated phone integration and voice-activated navigation and music controls. This makes it easier than ever to tell your vehicle what you need instead of taking your eyes off the road to look at your phone or adjust your car’s controls. Is it enough?

Even with not having a cell phone in hand, drivers can still be distracted when telling their vehicles what they need, just like they can be distracted talking to passengers. Even if you are not taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road, this integration can still slow your response times and lead to car accidents. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Utah tested 30 vehicle infotainment systems and found them all to be distracting to some degree.

This does not mean you need to avoid infotainment systems entirely. In fact, they are coming standard on many cars now, but you need to be mindful of how you use them. Remember that even though these systems make your tasks easier and safer than before, they are not 100 percent safe, and you should still avoid certain tasks until your car is parked. This means you can still become distracted with your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

Types of Driver Distraction

When examining car technology and distracted driving, it is essential to understand the types of driver distractions. There are three main types of driver distraction:

  • Manual distractions occur when your hands are off the wheel for some reason, whether it’s to grab your phone, sip your coffee, or change the radio station
  • Visual distractions happen when you take your eyes off the road perhaps to look at a text or see what your children are doing in the backseat
  • Cognitive distractions involve taking your mind off the road and mentally focusing on something else, whether it be what you need to get done at work, your grocery list, or how mad you are about a particular situation

Some actions you take in your car involve all three types of distraction, such as picking up your phone to check a text message. While car integration systems will reduce the number of distractions you are subjecting yourself to at one time, it does not eliminate them. Even if you are telling your car to call someone and having a conversation that way without picking up your phone, you are still experiencing a cognitive distraction.

California Laws Regarding Cell Phones

California has laws addressing some driver distractions. These laws include:

  • A hand-held cell phone ban
  • A completel cell phone ban for school bus drivers
  • A text messaging ban
  • Prohibiting novice drivers under the age of 18 from the use of cell phones

One out of every four accidents can be attributed to texting while driving. You are six times more likely to be involved in a car accident while texting and driving than driving while under the influence. Furthermore, teens are more likely to be involved in a fatal car accident due to texting and driving than adults are. Of teens who were involved in fatal auto accidents, over a fifth of them were distracted by their cell phones.

The Risk of Driving Safety Systems

A new study found that safety systems designed to make driving easier and safer are actually placing drivers and their fellow road-users at a higher risk for accidents. It does not mean the systems are intrinsically dangerous. However, researchers concluded that the auto industry has to do a better job of educating drivers about the limitations of such systems, which are incapable of making complex decisions on the road.

Drivers need to consider these systems to be support systems that assist them as long as they remain alert and attentive to the road and their driving. For example, adaptive cruise control keeps a safe distance between vehicles on the highway by automatically accelerating or slowing down without the assistance of the driver. Lane-keeping assist technology helps drivers stay in their lane by lightly pulling the wheel when the car starts to drift. As convenient as these systems may seem, they both still require the driver to remain alert and keep their hands on the wheel at all times.

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